Review

HTC Desire 530 review: A Sense-able budget phone

HTC launched the Desire 530 back at Mobile World Congress alongside the Desire 630 and 825; however, it wouldn't be launched in the United States until July. You can now grab it on Verizon Wireless for $144, T-Mobile for $159.99, and from htc.com (unlocked) for $179.

I've had the Desire 530 for about a month now, so is it worth it? Well, that depends on your preferences and priorities, and we'll get to that.

Specs

CPU 1.1 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 210, ARM Cortex-A7
GPU Adreno 304
Display 5", 720p, 294ppi, Super LCD
Body 146.9x70.9x8.3mm, 140g
Camera 8MP, Front 5MP
Video 720p - 30fps
Aperture f/2.4, Front f/2.8
Focal length 29.2mm
Camera features LED flash, autofocus
Storage 16GB, expandable to 256GB
RAM 1.5GB
Battery 2200mAh
OS Android 6.0, Sense 7

First impressions

You might have noticed that the Desire 530 didn't launch on AT&T, which may cause some to be suspicious of the carrier's relationship with HTC, given that it also didn't offer the flagship 10. This didn't cross my mind during initial impressions of the device, since my first thought was that the Desire 530 is almost identical to the Desire 626 - which did launch on AT&T - a device that I was not impressed with.

Of course, I've never reviewed a phone with a Snapdragon 210 that I was impressed with. The Microsoft Lumia 550 is another example. I've always found the 210 to be very underpowered and the Snapdragon 212 to be a much more adequate solution, as we can see from the Lumia 650.

Design and display

The truly unique portion of the Desire 530 is the design. When HTC first announced the device, they referred to the new style as streetwear, in an effort to "bridge the gap between fashion and consumer electronics."

Indeed, the speckled design adds a certain bit of style to the device. It's pleasing to the eye, and it's likely to make you think twice before slapping a case on it.

But HTC has always had solid design chops, even in its budget devices. One thing that the company has historically struggled with is display quality, especially with Super LCD devices. Some former devices have color balance that's so off that things that should be white end up being tinted green.

The Desire 530 does not seem to have that problem, which is very good news. Since the device is so similar to the Desire 626, I was afraid that it would suffer from the same issues.

The phone also comes with a wrist strap, which is something that I rather enjoy, mainly because it makes me nostalgic for my days with the Nokia Lumia 1020. Of course, if you would rather not use a strap, you don't have to attach it in the first place.

One more thing that I want to note is that it's a non-removable back. Take this information as you wish, as many users simply don't care about whether the rear cover can be taken off. Personally, on a phone like this I would be prefer to swap the cover from time to time.

When we're talking about the way the phone looks, it's a winner. The 5" HD display looks much better than I expected, and HTC brought its usual design chops to the table.

It's also a winner when it comes to sound quality. The device uses HTC's trademark front-facing speakers, and they sound great. Personally, I'm not one to use my phone as a speaker, so it's not a reason that I would run out and buy a Desire 530, but if it's important to you, it could be a deciding factor.

Sense 7.0_g

Earlier this year, I reviewed the HTC 10. The company had made a lot of changes to its Sense UI for the device, removing stock HTC apps in favor of Google apps and overhauling the stock Camera app, among other things. When I reached out to HTC to ask if it was using Sense 8 (Settings didn't show a version for Sense), the firm said that it wasn't using version numbers for its in-house Android skin anymore.

But while the 10 was released over four months ago, nothing that I just mentioned applies to the Desire 530. The device uses Sense 7.0_g, the version that launched with the One A9. Of course, the Desire 530 was launched for international markets back in February. Still, it would be nice to have the newer Camera app, along with some of the other add-ons in what we'll call Sense 8.

Note that there is a difference between Sense 7.0 and 7.0_g. Sense 7.0_g was meant to be "lighter" than its predecessor, as many had begun to criticize the weight that Android skins can put on performance.

You still get goodies like Sense Home, which is a widget that can show you different apps depending on whether you're home, at work, or out. Sadly, users still don't have the option to add a second job or second home.

Still, while it might be asking for too much, it would have been nice to see the software experience that HTC had prepared for the 10.

I also want to point out that since I was sent the T-Mobile model, there is a lot of junk on it. This isn't HTC's fault, but the Un-carrier's bloatware can be super annoying, such as the Lookout app, which scans every app you download (even updates) and gives you a notification on whether the app came up clean. If you go for a Desire 530, I'd recommend shelling out the extra few dollars for an unlocked model.

Battery life

Normally when reviewing a phone, I'd run a battery test, show a screenshot, and compare it to the real-world usage that I got when using it. I won't be doing that today for the sole reason that battery life is the Achilles' Heel of the HTC Desire 530.

It's not that the 2200mAh battery drains particularly fast when you're using it. It's more about how fast it drains when you're not using it. I found that if I didn't use the phone for about a day, it would be dead - or close to it - by the next day.

This can be a real problem for those that don't charge their phones overnight. If you do, you probably won't have an issue with it.

Rear camera

The 8MP rear camera has an f/2.4 aperture, autofocus, and a single LED flash. While it's not the best smartphone camera that you're going to come across by far, I personally think that it's great for the price.

Let's check out some samples:

As you can see, the daytime performance is pretty impressive. Colors are generally accurate, if a bit warm in some places.

Nighttime performance was better than I expected. It's no half-inch sensor like you'll find on flagships, but it certainly gets the job done. There are, however, a couple things to note. For one thing, the flash is exceptionally bright. It's too bright for close-up shots, but if you can learn to master it, it could be a powerful tool. Very few smartphone flashes will light up that stop sign that's the fourth from the bottom.

You'll also notice that in the Times Square photo (second from the bottom on the left), there are so many lights that the rest of the photo is super dark. This is due to the way that the Desire 530 meters its photos.

Metering is how your camera compensates for existing light. With this phone, it chooses a sample based on what you focus on. By default, it's the center of the image, but if you tap to focus, it will choose a different area. Here are some examples:

Different phones use different methods of metering (in fact, some will let you choose, but not this one), and there's no best way to do it. Some cameras will balance the light from the entire frame. It all comes down to the preference of the photographer.

Front camera

The front camera uses a 5MP sensor with an f/2.8 aperture, so naturally it doesn't have the best low-light performance. There's also no option to light up the display as a flash, which is a feature that we're seeing in flagships from Apple and Samsung (and HTC, for that matter), as well as lower end phones from LG and Motorola.

The four photos above are taken in four different lighting conditions. Sadly, none of them came out particularly good. You can see that it doesn't handle shadows very well in the top-left photo, and the same can be said for the bright light in the top-right.

Performance

Performance is another area where the Desire 530 is lacking. After all, it uses a Snapdragon 210 chipset, which is Qualcomm's lowest line of SoCs. In my experience, Snapdragon 212, or Snapdragon 210v2, is a better alternative; however, we don't seem to be seeing OEMs utilizing it.

We're going to get to benchmarks in a moment, but ultimately it will lead to the conclusion that there is noticeable lag at times when using this device. It's not always present, but it can be frustrating.

We may as well start with Geekbench tests. The app was recently updated to version 4, so I'm going to show the results from both Geekbench 3 and 4, as Geekbench 3 is an often-used tool and it will be easier to compare the scores to other devices.

As you can see, the single-core score comes in below the first-generation Moto G, and the multi-core score comes in just below the original Nexus 7. We'll see slightly different results from Geekbench 4.

On this test, the Desire 530 comes in above the Nexus 7 on both; personally, I don't recommend putting much stock in benchmarks. They very rarely reflect real-world performance.

Next up is AnTuTu, which tests the CPU, GPU, and more.

Finally, GFXBench tests the GPU, which in this case is the Adreno 304. Just like the Snapdragon 210 chipset, it's the lowest end GPU in Qualcomm's lineup.

As mentioned above, you'll notice some lag when using the Desire 530. You're not going to be able to play any demanding games, although less resource-intensive games work fine, such as Pokémon Go.

Conclusion

Normally, I'd end a review by stating whether or not I'd recommend purchasing the device. For the HTC Desire 530, there are a couple conditions that you must meet for me to recommend this phone.

  1. You're looking to spend under $200 on a phone.
  2. You want a phone with HTC's Sense UI.

If you only meet one of the above conditions, there is a better alternative for you. If you want Sense and money is no object, go for the HTC 10. It's a phenomenal phone. If you don't care about HTC's in-house Android skin but you only have $200 to spend, take a look at Lenovo's Moto G4, or even the Moto G3.

 

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